In-Person learning dangerous to students and staff

Skylar Saragusa, Reporter

After three weeks of hybrid learning, schools were shut down after cases spread like wild-fire throughout Olathe. With Christmas break coming and the end of the semester creeping up, administrators are struggling to decide what school should look like after break, and whether or not to return to hybrid learning. 

Returning to in-person school is a disaster waiting to happen, which is why schools should remain closed and online learning should prevail. The number of COVID-19 cases and lack of control in lessening these numbers in the United States is enough to show why staying home is necessary, but Olathe schools have done plenty to show why remote learning is the only safe option.

One of the main reasons Olathe schools were forced to close was due to staffing issues. Many teachers were absent after being exposed to COVID-19. Once exposed, students and staff in Olathe schools must quarantine for 14 days. This meant that schools had to try and find substitutes that would be willing to teach until the teacher could come back to school. During a regular school year it’s hard enough to find teachers to cover classes for a day, let alone finding substitutes to cover for two weeks. I don’t blame these substitutes either, as it seems risky to come into contact with a group of students you’ve never seen before. It’s hard to know if every student is following the COVID-19 guidelines outside of school, and whether or not the students have been exposed. We can’t expect this issue to change, regardless of whether or not the number of cases start to lessen and Olathe is no longer in the red zone. It’s too soon to expect substitutes to be willing to step in for teachers who are absent. Plus, unless substitutes are being tested before being allowed to step-in, we don’t know if that substitute has been exposed or not as well.

Another problem with in-person learning is Olathe schools’ lack of regulation in regards to COVID-19. Some stores, such as Walmart, are taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by taking employees’ temperatures when they report for work, according to Walmart Corporate. While this is not always an accurate way to determine whether or not a person has COVID-19, as there are asymptomatic carriers and other types of symptoms, it is a precaution that should still be taken in schools. While it may seem minor, there are many opportunities to test students and staff, so why not take advantage of it? For example, as a student who went to school when hybrid learning was put in place, I saw many teachers standing outside and inside at the front of the school. These teachers could easily take the temperature of students as they walk in, as it doesn’t take more than five seconds and there are half as many students in the building as before. A better, and easier option would be for each teacher to have a thermometer and take each student’s temperature as they walk into the classroom. This would be an even more effective option, as it would ensure that no student is missed. Plus, teachers would only need to do this once a day in the morning. The fact that schools didn’t think to take this simple step that would take upwards of five seconds to come up with, makes me wonder what other precautions schools are not taking.

One of the biggest problems has to do with Olathe school’s lack of responsibility when it comes to COVID-19. Through my experience in hybrid learning, my parents received several emails notifying them of COVID-19 cases in the building. These emails were sent as a mass email to all parents and guardians of students in that building. Every email they have received has stated that, “After careful review of this case it has been determined that the exposure risk is low due to masking and/or distance and there is no need for your student to quarantine.” These emails don’t indicate who may have been exposed. Additionally, if these emails are sent to everyone, it means that even students who were in close contact with the diagnosed student wouldn’t need to quarantine. However, the Center for Disease Control considers close contact and highly recommends quarantining if someone was “within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more.” The CDC mentions nothing about close contact and exposure that differs when a mask is put in the place. Considering that hybrid classes were 45 minutes long and at least 1 person was in contact with a student or staff member exposed to COVID-19, as not all desks in the building were more than six feet apart and students came into closer contact when walking through the halls, there are people who should have definitely quarantined. Plus, the fact that Olathe schools mention nothing about who may have been at risk, makes it extremely difficult for parents to decide whether or not to quarantine their student, especially for those that don’t take COVID-19 seriously. Unless emails are being sent out to students and parents personally, it would mean that not a single person would need to quarantine, making it highly likely that COVID-19 is still in the building. Plus, the fact that Olathe schools consider mask wearing to be a factor as to whether or not someone needs to be quarantined and how highly they were exposed is a huge stretch. The fact that it states that the low exposure is “due to masking and/or social distancing” is another indicator that nobody in close contact with the confirmed case would need to quarantine, despite the fact that mask wearing is mandatory. If mask wearing is the biggest factor in whether or not a person is exposed, which is what this message suggests, then it would mean that almost nobody in the world would need to quarantine, as people wear masks almost everywhere they go. However, we know that this idea is completely farfetched, so why are schools allowed to harp on this idea so much as if it is the biggest factor to determine exposure and risk?

Right before this message it was stated that “Olathe Public Schools works closely with the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment to identify individuals who may have been exposed.” After reading the rest of these emails it almost seems like a manipulation tactic used to gain the trust of parents by trying to get them to believe that Olathe schools are making the right decisions for the right reasons, and are doing everything necessary to keep their child safe. But this just simply isn’t true.

Another reason that we should remain hybrid is the lack of examples being set by teachers. There were many times I would be walking down a specific hallway in school and see the same group of teachers sitting in chairs in front of a classroom. These chairs were right next to each other, which broke the rules of social distancing that students are constantly reminded of. Seeing teachers sitting and talking next to each other, whether masks are on or off, and then having them tell you to make sure to stay six feet apart from one another is hypocritical and sets a bad example for students. Until administrators ensure that teachers are following the rules the way students are, there is no reason for students to come back into the building and witness this irresponsible behavior.

Regardless of all the wrongdoings Olathe schools have overlooked, condoned, or been a part of, students should remain remote because they need consistency. When school first began, students expected to be going in person. However, right before school started we found out that school would be online. As school began, it was immediately clear that remote learning was highly unorganized and inefficient. However, after weeks passed by, teachers and students seemed to get used to or accept this type of learning. As this occurred, students were told that they would be going in person using a hybrid model consisting of half days, where half of the students would go in the morning and half of the students would go in the afternoon. This was also mentioned last minute and completely threw students off of their regular schedule. Then, as soon as students started getting used to their new hybrid learning schedules, they were told at the last minute that they would be returning to online learning for full days. This was even harder for students to get used to, as they were used to only going to school for half of the day. Plus, those in the afternoon session who were used to sleeping in had an even harder time. 

The truth is that as of now, the number of COVID-19 cases are only rising, and will continue with the holidays coming up. If students were to return to hybrid learning, it’s possible that students could end up in the same situations that occurred in the first semester. Instead of dragging students back and forth between hybrid and remote learning, it’s better to keep them at home for the rest of the year with a consistent schedule and less chances of being exposed to COVID-19, keeping families safe and healthy.